Scepticism: the new religion

Those of us who have received evidence that convinces us we will continue to exist, in some form, beyond death know that it can be a life-changing discovery. And most of us feel that this world – humanity as a whole – would be a better place if more people had knowledge of the evidence for survival after death and the opportunity to explore the evidence and the implications for themselves.

Arthur Findlay CollegeSo it is hardly surprising that so many comments on this blog in recent weeks have expressed dismay over the decision by the Spiritualists’ National Union [whose headquarters is at the Arthur Findlay College, Stansted, Essex, pictured] to shut down Psychic News, a newspaper dedicated to promoting that evidence globally for almost eight decades.

Though its readership has been declining in recent years, it has been responsible for introducing many people to the scientific evidence for an after-life as well as Spiritualism’s philosophy. Its demise has left a gaping void and it is tremendously frustrating that those responsible for the decision are not answering questions about the real reasons for closing it, or their failure to come up with a rescue plan.

Contrast this dire lack of communication from Spiritualism’s largest UK organisation with the activities of the sceptics – people who are on a mission to dismiss all evidence for paranormal phenomena and belief in an after-life.

They are growing in numbers. Indeed, it seems to me at times as if scepticism has become a new religion. Their meetings take place at top venues around the world and their speakers’ sceptical assertions are lapped up with zealous enthusiasm by the delegates.

James RandiThey even have their own Messiah – James Randi – a bearded prophet of rationalism whose appearance on stage at these events is usually greeted with a reception akin to worship.

In the October news and updates email from the James Randi Educational Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, “social critic and magician” Randi says:

“For those of you who have supported the JREF since our inception in 1996, and even for those folks who are new to our coterie, there are a plenitude of reasons to be delighted.

“For instance, the JREF plans in the short term to enter the realm of digital publishing with sceptical titles poised for release on the iPad and iPhone, Kindle, and other digital schemes. We are increasing our video content on

“We have also launched a new grants for educators programme and our regional workshops are a reality with St Louis, Chicago and Louisville already on record as the first of many such planned sceptical assemblages. We also recently awarded four new academic scholarships.”

The JREF is not alone. Another non-profit organisation, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), publishers of Skeptical Inquirer – to use the American spelling in both instances – announced two days ago that it wants to recruit a full-time communications director to handle press relations and publicity. Experience in public relations and/or journalism is required, of course, and applicants must be “familiar with the organisation’s mission and demonstrate a commitment to humanism and skepticism”. Salary will be based on experience.

Center for Inquiry HQThe CSI is an associate of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) which was established in 1991 and has expanded rapidly since then, moving into a new 20,000 sq foot headquarters in Amherst, New York, in 1995 (pictured), to which it added a 15,600 sq ft research wing five years ago. With its mission “to oppose and supplant the mythological narratives of the past and the dogmas of the present” it has had considerable success in placing sceptics on national TV and radio programs.

“Literally hundreds of guests have been placed on thousands of programmes,” says its website. “This includes all of the major networks – CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, PBS – and virtually all of the cable companies – CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, C SPAN – as well as National Public Radio, AP Radio, etc.”

The CFI maintains a Council for Media Integrity and “a rapid-response network to try to monitor programming and fight for balance in the media”.

So, what’s the difference between the SNU and the sceptical organisations – apart from the blindingly obvious fact that they champion very different philosophies? Its clearly all about communication: telling the world what you are doing and even appointing professional people to do so on your behalf.

Whilst the sceptics are busy coming up with titles that can be read on iPads and Kindles, the SNU has killed off Spiritualism’s only independent, weekly newspaper and fire its staff.

For the record, I know that the SNU and its churches, ministers, mediums and healers do a tremendous amount of good in presenting evidence for spirit communication and promoting spirit-inspired philosophy. But it needs to be shouting that information from the rooftops. It has to explore ways of publicising its activities (and those of similar organisations) through every avenue available.

The SNU website assures us that it “promotes knowledge of the religion, philosophy and science of Spiritualism” and that it “unites Spiritualists throughout the world and supports 340 Spiritualist societies and churches”. It also holds over 1,500 meetings a week across the UK – far more, I’m sure, than the rapidly-expanding sceptics groups in the US and Europe.

That’s all well and good, but in the battle for minds it seems to me that the sceptics have the upper hand right now. Their scepticism is even influencing the treatment of spiritual and paranormal stories by the supposedly objective media, due to a concerted campaign on their part. As a result, many newspaper and magazine articles I read now refer to Spiritualism in the past tense – as a religion that thrived in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now virtually dead and buried.

We know that’s not true. But closing down Spiritualism’s unique weekly record will simply reinforce that view around the globe. It’s time for the SNU and all Spiritualist organisations to speak up!

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